Buzzed on Hornet racing
The Proctor Speedway features many local drivers in many divisions, but its choice to add Hornet racing a few years back has allowed a number of drivers to enjoy their passion at a lower cost and yet still get the thrill of racing in front of large crowds.
"I think the reason I love Hornet racing so much is that it is just a lot of fun," said Derek Ament, who started racing in Barnum in 2000. "It is a lot less expensive to run in the Hornet division and when you get into the higher classes it can be more competitive, but at the Hornet level, everyone helps everyone out when they can."
Oval track racing on the local level can get to be an expensive proposition. Drivers need to find sponsors to help pay for cars, tires, parts and numerous other expenses before hitting the track in a race.
"If someone breaks down, you try and help them," Derek's father, Wally Ament, said. "There is just a lot of camaraderie between the racers."
Derek, 34, has been racing off and on since 2000, when he started in Barnum at the Carlton County Fairgrounds. Wally, 68, raced for a couple of years in the 1970s, but got the itch to get back into racing in 2016 while watching his son and other local racers having way too much fun without him.
"I got the bug there is no doubt about that," Wally said. "You always go out hoping to win, but it gives you something to do and it is good fun."
AJ House, 17, of Sawyer, has been racing since he was 14 years old and is already in his fourth year of racing.
"The Hornet division is fun because you can get into a car for a lot less money and still have the fun of running around a race track," he said. "Basically, the Hornets are a four-cylinder stock car and they are run on Sunday nights in Proctor."
Racers can hit speeds of 60-65 miles per hour on the straightaways at Proctor. The speedway keeps point standings in which Derek is leading the division with 706 points — 18 points better than second-place racer Hunter McDougall of Duluth.
Wally is fifth in the Hornet class, with AJ in sixth and AJ's uncle, Brad House, in eighth.
"This is my first year racing," Brad said. "I've been helping to build cars for a long time, and I've been watching my son's race and all these other guys, so I decided to give it a try this year. It's been a lot of fun."
Ironically, despite being 55 years old, Brad has the least on-track driving experience and it has shown at times this year. In the first race of the season, as Brad tried to learn what his car could do, he was lapped by every other car in the field, prompting a "Driving Miss Daisy" comparison. In his last race, Brad had the opposite happen, where he was flagged off the track for driving too aggressively.
Brad's son, Kyle, has run the Hornets class for years and this year was making the move up into Midwest Modifieds, but did not finish the season and has decided to run in the Hornets again next season.
"I am excited to be racing in the same class as my dad," Kyle said. "A lot of parents take their kids fishing or camping; our family goes out to the garage and works on cars. It is a lot of fun and everyone gets along so well."
The Hornet Nationals, scheduled for Friday, Aug. 3, at Proctor, were canceled because Mother Nature decided to step in and dump rain on the speedway Friday and Saturday. Local racers will have one more shot at Proctor coming up Sunday, Aug. 12, but then they will all return to Barnum, where they will race as part of the Carlton County Fair weekend.
"We all started racing in Barnum," AJ said. "It is fun to go race on your home track and race against everyone you know. It will be a great time."
For Derek, returning to Barnum was a no-brainer despite the fact he is on the cusp of winning the Hornets points title in Proctor this season.
"I don't think anyone's gotten rich locally off of Hornets racing," Derek said with a laugh. "I don't worry about the points title. I just like to race and so do the rest of our guys, so going back to Barnum is an easy decision for all of us."